With the fifth-overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Miami Dolphins selected Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. He began his rookie season backing up starter Ryan Fitzpatrick, only for the Dolphins to turn to the rookie after the team’s bye week. In 10 nine starts (plus a final-minute appearance before the bye), Tagovailoa threw for 1,814 yards on a 64.1-percent completion rate with 11 touchdowns and five interceptions, along with 36 rushes for 109 yards and three touchdowns.
His performance was far from perfect, but it looked a lot like a rookie quarterback trying to figure out the NFL. Tagovailoa was a rookie who did not have an offseason or training camp program to get ready for the season - and before you point out the same for Joe Burrow or Justin Herbert - as he was coming back from a fractured and dislocated hip that cost him the final third of his 2019 season at Alabama. Tagovailoa was a rookie who showed flashes but also looked like a rookie.
What do the Dolphins have in Tagovailoa? That is the question that many fans and analysts have been asking since the end of the 2020 season. There has been plenty of speculation that Miami could look to select another first-round quarterback this year as they hold the third-overall selection from a 2019 trade with the Houston Texans. There has also been rumors Miami could be interested in making another trade with the Texans, this time targeting Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson. Do the Dolphins have their franchise quarterback or do they need to address the position this offseason?
When a Hall of Fame quarterback takes the time to breakdown the film of a young quarterback, it is worth the listen. When it is your team’s quarterback, you make sure to pay attention. That situation happened this past week as Kurt Warner, a 2017 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee and the only player to be in both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Arena Football Hall of Fame, took a closer look at Tagovailoa’s rookie performance.
In episode one, Warner takes a look at the use of the Run-Pass Option (RPO) for the Dolphins as well as Tagovailoa’s ability to know when and where he needs to use quick or hot reads. He comes away saying Tagovailoa struggled at times on longer reads and plays, but he was really strong when it comes to quick reads and plays. His accuracy allows him to place the ball perfectly to stay away from the defender.
In episode two, Warner again looks at how quickly Tagovailoa gets the ball out of his hand. He does, however, start to look at what happened when the play took longer to develop or Tagovailoa had to go through multiple reads. While a first-read throw was great for Tagovailoa, when it required further reads, Tagovailoa looked like a rookie, Warner said, with some missed reads. He also looks at some of the technique from Tagovailoa, using a three-step drop in a quick route from the shotgun as an example of something the Dolphins and Tagovailoa need to clean up heading into his second year.
It is also a funny moment when, breaking down the routes receivers are running on a play, Warner simply states, “I’m not sure what the concept is here.” That was a large part of Miami’s offense this past season, and probably a reason they moved on from offseason.
Warner’s closing comments for the episode focus on Tagovailoa needing to have a little more patience and being aggressive enough to attack the defense. He states, that Tagovailoa was hesitant to make some of the chunk throws and it “hurt this team that needed more big plays from the quarterback position.”
Warner came back in episode three to take a final look at Tagovailoa and he starts by admitting that we saw moments of Miami’s quarterback being aggressive and making the chunk throws. Warner says, “To me, if you are going to be great in this league, you’ve got to always be aggressive. You’ve got to always look to make that big play, even if it leads to a couple of mistakes that puts pressure on the defense.” He then turns back to the film to show, Tagovailoa can be that guy and he is not just a “game manager.”
Warner clearly sees the potential Tagovailoa has to be a star in the league. On one throw against the Chiefs, he seemed amazed with what Tagovailoa did, exclaiming, “It doesn’t get any better than that,” as he rewound the tape multiple times. He continued on the same play, saying, “That is a money throw on the second level, so don’t sit back and say ‘Tua can’t do it.’ Tua can do it, he just has to be more aggressive like this.”
The summary of what Miami has in Tagovailoa, according to Warner, came in the middle of the episode, when he said, “Hey, he can do this, he just needs to trust himself, trust his arm, trust his eyes more often and make more of [the highlighted throw against the Chiefs] for the Dolphins.”
Tagovailoa needs to grow the point where, as Warner said, he does not “settle for those little check downs.”
The flashes are there and the Dolphins will have a special quarterback, but Tagovailoa, as Warner stresses throughout all three episodes, just needs to be more patient. That should come as the speed of the game slows down for Miami’s now second-year quarterback.